Tag Archive for: Melbourne Cup

Heaven buyers aiming big – from Royal Ascot to Australia

Leading Royal Ascot contender A Piece Of Heaven will be having his first start for new connections when he runs next week.

The six-year-old had been the flag bearer of Barry Fitzgerald’s yard but he has subsequently been bought by Jack Cantillon of Syndicates Racing to be sent into training with Joseph O’Brien.

His new owners are targeting the Copper Horse Handicap won by Vauban last season before a potential crack at the Melbourne Cup.

“I think what this horse did at Leopardstown was really underestimated. He was off a mark of 94 and the handicapper gave him 7lb,” Cantillon told www.thorougbreddailynews.com.

“We looked at his stride and sectional analytics and both metrics pointed to a top-class performance being posted. Not only did he put in the performance, but he also vetted extremely well.

“If he can continue on his upward trajectory, he’s a horse with the profile and lack of miles on the clock to be a Melbourne Cup contender.

“A Piece Of Heaven has been sent to one of Ireland’s greatest trainers and a brilliant man to travel a horse in Joseph O’Brien but I think Barry deserves huge credit by how well he has campaigned him thus far.

“If the horse can achieve more in 2024 and beyond, which I think he can, I’d really like Barry to get the credit that he deserves for what a brilliant job he has done in nurturing this horse’s talents.”

Middle Earth makes most of Aston Park opportunity

Middle Earth came with a sustained late charge to take the Sky Sports Racing Aston Park Stakes at Newbury.

John and Thady Gosden’s well-regarded colt broke steadily from the stalls and was ridden patiently by Oisin Murphy, settling into a space on the far rail having started at 100-30.

The lead changed hands a few times in the home straight, although the King and Queen’s even-money favourite Desert Hero never looked a threat, as King Of Conquest seemed poised to strike.

Charlie Appleby’s five-year-old had broken clear of the field in the Group Three contest, but it was Middle Earth who was gaining momentum on the inside and he surged home to score with just a nose between him and the Godolphin-trained runner-up.

“That was good, the jockey saved every inch and he needed every inch,” said John Gosden.

“He won well in the Noel Murless Stakes at Ascot (in October) and he’s a grand horse.

“The horse will come on for that, because it wasn’t strongly run for a horse coming from last. He’s like his father (Roaring Lion), he likes good ground, good to firm and firm. He’s not a lover of soft ground.

“He was slow out the gates, he usually is, but he was slower than ever and there was no pace until old Cemhaan tried to put a bit of pace in it.

“He did well to win off that pace, but Oisin was clever sneaking up the rail and when you are winning by a nose you need to sneak up the rail.”

Middle Earth with Oisin Murphy
Middle Earth with Oisin Murphy (Steven Paston/PA)

Middle Earth – whose only below-par effort last year was in the St Leger – now appears set to march on towards Royal Ascot for an outing in the Hardwicke Stakes, but with Australian handler Ciaron Maher holding an interest, a trip to Australia is inevitable in the autumn.

“He’s entered in the Hardwicke and we will have to check. Ciaron Maher owns the other half in Australia so we will chat with them and see what the game plan will be, but that seems the place he is likely to go,” continued Gosden.

“The plan is to go down to Australia for the Melbourne Cup. We’ll probably run him a couple or more times here, we’ll not overrace him and then go down there.

“He hated the ground in the St Leger last year, it was too loose and he does not like it. So if they get one of those downpours in Melbourne we may as well all stay in the hotel.”

Desert Hero was fifth eventually, with rider Tom Marquand saying of his run: “He ended up sitting a bit closer than he normally does off the slower pace, but whether that race at Sandown (last month) took a bit out of him, I’m not sure.

“He is certainly better suited when there is a stronger gallop on and it was not the worst run ever, but it was certainly not up to some of his best form.”

Vauban set for second bite at Melbourne Cup cherry

Vauban’s big aim is a return to Australia for the Melbourne Cup but Willie Mullins has not definitively ruled out an appearance at the Punchestown Festival.

The Rich and Susannah Ricci-owned six-year-old has not been seen since finishing only 14th of 23 when sent off favourite for last year’s Melbourne Cup.

He has not run over hurdles since chasing home stable companion and current champion hurdler State Man at last season’s Punchestown Festival, after which his attentions were switched to the Flat.

He won the Copper Horse Handicap at Royal Ascot, beating another stablemate in Absurde, who won the County Hurdle last week, and then had little trouble in winning the Group Three Ballyroan Stakes before his trip to Australia.

“Yes (he’s likely to have a Flat campaign), I think that’s more or less the plan,” said Mullins.

“He might get a run in Punchestown if he’s ready but I think I’m going to concentrate on getting him back to Melbourne in ship shape and have another crack at the Melbourne Cup in November.”

Mullins’ Melbourne challenge ends in Vauban disappointment

Willie Mullins was not ruling out a future bid for Lexus Melbourne Cup glory after watching his favourite Vauban disappoint in the Flemington highlight.

The Irish handler rated Vauban and stablemate Absurde as his best ever chance in the two-mile contest, but while the latter horse performed with credit in seventh, Vauban trailed home 14th in the hands of Ryan Moore.

The five-year-old, who is a multiple Grade One winner over hurdles, carried plenty of confidence into the race having registered a wide-margin win over Absurde at Royal Ascot before following up in a Group Three at Naas in August.

Ryan Moore appeared to have a good position on Vauban but he faded in the straight to be beaten over 13 lengths by winner Without A Fight.

“I thought Vauban was a little disappointing all round. He was beaten too far out for my liking,” Mullins told www.racing.com.

“When I saw him six furlongs out with Ryan having to give him a little niggle, I thought, ‘that’s too far out for him to be niggling him’. He just flattened out and ran very disappointing.

“But there we are. That’s the nature of this game.”

A packed Flemington on Melbourne Cup day
A packed Flemington on Melbourne Cup day (Cormac Pearson/PA)

Moore said: “Obviously a disappointing run from him. Maybe he didn’t fire today, the winner was very good, and we didn’t get home today unfortunately.”

Ebor winner Absurde was well supported before the start and posted a fine effort for jockey Zac Purton, hitting the front with two furlongs to run before fading in the closing stages.

Mullins said “I thought Absurde ran a cracker. He was in a position to win at one stage coming up the straight but didn’t see it out.”

Purton added: “He travelled nicely, he presented at the right time, he just didn’t run through the line. Anyway, he ran well, but not what we wanted.”

Willie Mullins would be keen to mount another Melbourne Cup challenge
Willie Mullins would be keen to mount another Melbourne Cup challenge (Brian Lawless/PA)

Vauban has not won over hurdles since the 2022 Punchestown Festival but placed three times at the highest level last term, while Absurde has won one of his two runs over obstacles and Mullins will take stock before deciding on a return to the National Hunt sphere.

He said: “We will bring them back, see how they are. They are dual-purpose horses. If either of them had won they wouldn’t have jumped a hurdle again.”

Mullins has won virtually every major prize in jumps racing but his multiple Australian raids have ended in disappointment, with Max Dynamite his best performer having finished second in 2015 and third in 2017 in the colours of Vauban’s owners Susannah and Rich Ricci.

Despite leaving empty handed again, Mullins would be eager to run if the right candidate comes along.

“It’s a great prize, it’s a great day, great occasion,” he said.

“If we get one good enough, we will try again.”

Without A Fight completes Cup double in Melbourne

Without A Fight stormed home to complete a big-race double in the Lexus Melbourne Cup at Flemington.

The Anthony and Sam Freedman-trained runner won the Caulfield Cup on his previous run and followed up in style under Mark Zahra in the two-mile Group One.

Previously trained by Simon and Ed Crisford, Without A Fight finished 13th in the Melbourne Cup last year, but 12 months on, he was a clear-cut victor.

The Willie Mullins-trained Vauban was sent off favourite for the race and Ryan Moore appeared to have bagged a nice position on the inside rail, settling in fifth place as Serpentine – winner of the 2020 Derby but now trained in Australia – set out to make all.

Hollie Doyle, who was making her Melbourne Cup debut, raced prominently aboard Future History, but straightening up for home, the early pacesetters were starting to feel their efforts.

Ryan Moore switched Vauban out to challenge and he briefly looked to get his head in front two furlongs from home, only for his stablemate Absurde to swoop round his outside and grab the initiative.

However, Zahra was stoking up Without A Fight down the middle of the track and he hit the front a furlong out, fairly sprinting home to pull clear of another former British runner Soulcombe in second and Sheraz in third.

Absurde, who was ridden by Zac Purton, eventually came home seventh, while Vauban was 14th and Future History 15th. Joseph O’Brien’s contender Okita Soushi never really figured and finished 11th.

Mark Zahra celebrates with winning connections at Flemington
Mark Zahra celebrates with winning connections at Flemington (Cormac Pearson/PA)

Without A Fight is the first horse since Ethereal in 2001 to complete the Caulfield-Melbourne Cup double, while Zahra is the first rider since Harry White in 1978 and 1979 to win successive Melbourne Cups on different horses having partnered Gold Trip last year.

“I thought the biggest opposition was my horse himself for being too keen,” Zahra said.

“Coming out the barriers cold, he’s a horse that settles much better on the fence, tucked away with all the horses around him, so I got him to the fence and he went to sleep straight away. I was following three great jockeys in Damien Oliver, James McDonald and Ryan Moore.

“It’s all about plotting the right path and I got to where I want to be. Last year I got a scare at the 200 (metre mark), at the 400 (this year) I thought I’m just home here.”

Zahra, who opted to ride Without A Fight over eventual 17th Gold Trip, said he felt in great shape and took a relaxed approach to the race.

He added: “I got it right for the Caulfield Cup and I have tried to keep it since then… you don’t want to think about the race too much, but you also have to do a bit of homework.”

Sam Freedman said he was positive going into the Melbourne Cup after Without A Fight’s performance in the Caulfield Cup.

“I was pretty confident. He actually had a better lead up to this race then he did for the Caulfield Cup,” he said.

“Mark didn’t know this but his lead up was not perfect going into it so when he won it was a real sort of, this horse might be something pretty freakish.”

It was Freedman’s first Melbourne Cup win, training the horse alongside his father Anthony. He is the nephew to Lee Freedman who trained three-time Melbourne Cup winner Makybe Diva.

“It’s pretty special, my great, great, great grandfather was a jockey and we gradually got a bit taller from there, he won three Melbourne Cups and then Lee obviously has won five, so it was nice to win one,” he added.

Hollie Doyle was unplaced on Future History
Hollie Doyle was unplaced on Future History (John Walton/PA)

Doyle felt Future History had failed to see out the trip on the day.

She said: “He ran really well, got a nice pitch and got into a beautiful rhythm, I just think it tested his stamina late.”

Right You Are was pulled up in the race, with the horse later reported to be recovering after suffering from heat stress on a scorching day in Melbourne.

Vauban team optimistic ahead of his Melbourne Cup tilt

Connections of Vauban are harbouring high hopes as he faces his moment of destiny in Tuesday’s Lexus Melbourne Cup at Flemington.

The Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old heads the market for the Group One handicap after making a seamless switch to the Flat following three wins at the highest level over hurdles.

A seven-and-a-half-length winner of the Copper Horse Handicap at Royal Ascot, Vauban then struck Group Three gold in the Ballyroan Stakes on his prep run, leaving big-race rider Ryan Moore confident his mount has plenty in his favour in the 24-runner race.

The jockey told Betfair: “You’d be happy enough with his draw in three, but there are pros and cons to being housed in any stall, so let’s focus on what we know. And that is that Vauban looks to hold excellent credentials, second to none, though maybe connections of Gold Trip and Without A Fight, and others, may disagree.

Vauban won the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2022
Vauban won the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2022 (Mike Egerton/PA)

“Whether or not he deserves to be so short in the betting in a 24-runner handicap in which luck in running can be a big factor, I’ll let others decide. I only ride them.

“But you’d rather be on a 5-2 favourite than a 50-1 outsider and this 160-rated Grade One-winning hurdler was pretty awesome for me when winning the Copper Horse at Royal Ascot from his stablemate and subsequent Ebor winner Absurde, who also runs here, and he set himself up nicely for this when winning his Group Three at Naas, a race in which I actually rode the third, Peking Opera.

“Obviously, the Ascot win came off a mark of just 101 and this is a far deeper handicap and sterner test for him, but it seems like they are delighted with the way he has travelled and has settled in and here is hoping he can give me my first winner of this race since Protectionist in 2014. My only win in the race, in fact.”

Mullins is equally upbeat, rating Vauban and Absurde as his best Melbourne team yet, having saddled Max Dynamite to finish second in the race in 2015 and third two years later.

Absurde (left) won the Ebor at York
Absurde (left) won the Ebor at York (Mike Egerton/PA)

He told www.racing.com: “I think he’s (Vauban) as good as Max Dynamite and maybe better, we’ll find out that on Tuesday.

“It’s our strongest chance ever, it probably will be my strongest chance ever.

“We wouldn’t want to forget Absurde either, he did it very well with Frankie (Dettori) in the Ebor, Frankie gave him a terrific ride there.

“He has quarantined very well, and I think he’s in great shape.”

Serpentine was a shock Derby winner in 2020
Serpentine was a shock Derby winner in 2020 (Bill Selwyn/PA)

There are no British-trained runners this year, with Joseph O’Brien’s Okita Soushi the only other European contender, but there are plenty of familiar names in the line up with last year’s winner Gold Trip going again for Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, while Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott run 2020 Derby hero Serpentine and Chris Waller has last year’s Irish Oaks victor Magical Lagoon.

The Maher and Eustace team field five, with Hollie Doyle getting the leg up on former French runner Future History for the training duo.

Michelle Payne is the only woman to have ridden a Melbourne Cup winner having steered home Prince Of Penzance in 2015 and Doyle would love to add her name to the roll of honour on her first attempt.

She said: “I’m really excited to be coming to Melbourne and having a ride in the Cup on such a horse with a live chance as in Future History – it’s great for connections to have put me up.

“Obviously, with only 50kg, anything can happen in the Cup and, obviously, you need a lot of luck!

“I’ve spoken a little bit to Peter Trainor (owner), but I’ve been keeping myself up-to-date and following Future History and took an in-depth look into his career so far to get to know him.

Hollie Doyle has her first Melbourne Cup ride on Future History
Hollie Doyle has her first Melbourne Cup ride on Future History (Tim Goode/PA)

“I think he’s got a great chance – he’ll obviously have to take a step forward again, but he seems to have been taking the right steps recently.

“He’s a Bart Cummings winner around Flemington, which is a plus – he’s got that experience on the track.

“He needs to prove he can stay the two miles, which I think he should do. His run in the (Moonee Valley) Gold Cup last week was very solid, around a track that’s probably quite sharp for him, and from a bad draw.”

Caulfield Cup winner Without A Fight, ex-William Haggas runner Soulcombe and Japanese contender Breakup are others to the fore in the betting.

Mullins pair favoured by Melbourne Cup draw

Willie Mullins-trained duo Vauban and Absurde have fared well in the Lexus Melbourne Cup draw, being allotted stalls three and eight respectively.

Vauban is a firm favourite to win the race that stops a nation at Flemington on Tuesday after this season adding some impressive Flat form to his high-class hurdling exploits.

The five-year-old romped home by seven and a half lengths in the Copper Horse Handicap at Royal Ascot before winning the Group Three Ballyroan Stakes at Naas.

Absurde was runner-up to his stablemate at Ascot and has since claimed victory in the Ebor at York.

Mullins finished second in Australia’s biggest race back in 2015 with Max Dynamite and believes he has the ammunition to go one better this time.

Ryan Moore is set to partner Vauban and Mullins said: “I think he’s as good as Max Dynamite and maybe better, we’ll find out that on Tuesday.

“It’s our strongest chance ever, it probably will be my strongest chance ever.

“We wouldn’t want to forget Absurde either, he did it very well with Frankie (Dettori) in the Ebor, Frankie gave him a terrific ride there.

“He has quarantined very well, and I think he’s in great shape.”

Sky Bet Ebor Festival 2023 – Day Four – York Racecourse
Absurde ridden by Frankie Dettori (left) wins the Sky Bet Ebor (Mike Egerton/PA)

Zac Purton has been booked to ride Absurde and Mullins feels he has improved since clashing with Vauban at the Royal meeting.

“I think it’s going to be a different race and I think Absurde is going to be a different horse as well,” added the Irish trainer on racing.com.

“He’s learned to settle a good bit more and now that he’s got a nice draw, I think he’ll be able to put him where he wants him and that’ll make a huge difference.

“There was probably 20 lengths between them passing the winning post the first time around at Royal Ascot, there won’t be that here, I hope.”

Joseph O’Brien has already sent down two previous winners in Rekindling and Twilight Payment and this time relies on Okita Soushi.

He was also a Royal Ascot scorer in the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes but struggled in the Caulfield Cup last time out and is an outsider here after being drawn out wide in stall 20.

Defending champion Gold Trip will line up alongside Vauban in stall two, former William Haggas inmate Soulcombe is in four and Caulfield Cup hero Without A Fight, previously trained by Simon and Ed Crisford, has drawn 16.

Vauban sparkles in Flemington gallop

Melbourne Cup favourite Vauban posted an impressive workout as he enjoyed a first look at Flemington.

Willie Mullins’ charge heads the market for next Tuesday’s feature after recording a seven-and-a-half-length win in the Copper Horse Handicap at Royal Ascot in June before booking his ticket to Australia with a cosy victory in the Ballyroan Stakes in August.

A three-times Grade One winner over hurdles, Vauban worked in company with stablemate and fellow Cup contender Absurde at Flemington, pulling away from the Ebor victor in comfortable fashion.

Mullins’ assistant David Casey has been overseeing the pair’s preparations for the Group One handicap and he is more than satisfied with Vauban heading into the two-mile race.

“Everything seems good, we’re having a ball,” Casey told www.racing.com.

“The horse has been very relaxed, taken it all in, done everything we’ve asked, great to get a morning like this morning to come to Flemington and see something different.

“It’s all just a good experience for him for race day.”

Vauban is a best-priced 3-1 with bet365, with Absurde a general 14-1 chance for the Melbourne Cup.

Melbourne Cup glory would be right up there for Mullins

Victory for either Vauban or Absurde in the Lexus Melbourne Cup would rank alongside the highlights of Willie Mullins’ career, according to the multiple Irish National Hunt champion trainer.

There is barely a prize in jumps racing that Mullins has not won, with the County Carlow handler counting three Cheltenham Gold Cups, four Champion Hurdles and two Champion Chases among his 94 Festival winners, plus the Grand National and any amount of the jewels of the Irish season.

However, Mullins believes a win the Flemington Group One on November 7 would match any of those achievements.

He said: “Looking at the profile of our yard, I don’t think we’re going to win a Breeders’ Cup, the chance of winning an Arc is going to be tough, so to us, the type of horse we have, it would probably be the biggest race in the world we could win.”

The Closutton handler acknowledged the historic nature of such a win, with County Carlow native George Watson among the 25 founding members of the Victoria Racing Club and the starter for the inaugural Melbourne Cup in 1861.

Mullins explained: “The guy who started it all was only two miles over the road, George Watson. He left here in 1840-something with a pack of hounds, started the Melbourne Hunt, that in turn founded the racecourse and in turn started the Melbourne Cup.

“He was the starter for 30 years, he was on the board that started Flemington and the Melbourne Cup, so it would be sort of rounding off the circle if we could bring it back to Carlow.”

Mullins is no stranger to Flemington, having first sent Holy Orders to finish a distant 17th behind Makybe Diva back in 2003.

He has hit the crossbar since with Max Dynamite finishing a half-length second in 2015 before returning two years later to take third, but he ranks ante-post favourite Vauban and Ebor victor Absurde as his best chances yet.

He said: “We’re very happy with Vauban and Absurde, both seem very well in Australia and David (Casey, assistant trainer) is very happy with the two of them.

“Both horses will handle any ground I think down there – probably softer ground would suit us better than a lot of the Australian or foreign horses. The weather down there, there’s a lot 30-degree days but it changes all the time. It’s not an issue I think with either of our horses, they could both go on fast ground.”

Vauban is a three-time Grade One winner over hurdles and made an immediate impact on the level when strolling home by seven lengths from Absurde in the Copper Horse Handicap at Royal Ascot before a cosy Group Three win in the Ballyroan Stakes.

Absurde benefitted from an inspired Frankie Dettori ride to win the Ebor, but the Italian will not be in the plate again as even before he was given a 16-day ban that starts on November 7 for whip offences on Champions Day, he would not have been able to make Absurde’s weight of 8st 5lb.

Top Hong Kong jockey and old ally Zac Purton will instead take the ride as Absurde looks to make up the Ascot deficit with his yard’s number one hope.

Mullins said: “Zac Purton rides Absurde. He was third on Max Dynamite so I know Zac from before and he gave Max Dynamite a fantastic ride that day, so we were very happy when he became available. He can do the weight easily – Absurde has a light weight and it’s very hard to get top-class jockeys at that weight.

“I know their form ties in at Royal Ascot, Frankie gave him a good ride to get him settled and introduce him at the end but the race was over by the time he got going.

“You’d be hoping the Melbourne Cup would be a different pace and Zac can get Absurde settled. However, looking back on the Ebor, Frankie came up the wide outside from a wide draw which helped him to settle hugely.

“It might be harder for Zac to do something like that, although the straight in Melbourne is long enough from the two-mile start. We will have to see where we are drawn and what have you.”

Bradsell aiming to provide Doyle with American glory

Hollie Doyle will look to tick another big ambition off her “bucket list” when riding Bradsell at this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita.

American duo Julie Krone and Rosie Napravnik are the only female jockeys to have tasted success at the meeting, in 2003 and 2012 respectively.

Doyle’s best effort so far in her previous attempts to join that exclusive club was a fourth-placed finish on Nashwa 12 months ago when favourite for the Filly & Mare Turf.

“It’s something that is definitely on the bucket list,” said the 27-year-old. “I’ve had a few attempts so far without any luck but it’s something that would be a dream to achieve.

Bradsell and Hollie Doyle winning last year's Coventry Stakes
Bradsell and Hollie Doyle winning last year’s Coventry Stakes (David Davies/PA)

“Every time I go to America I bring a lot back and learn from it. You realise how good they have to be to win a Breeders’ Cup race. You can’t just turn up there, they have to be trained to the minute for it.”

This year, Doyle appears to have a decent chance of hitting the target with dual Royal Ascot winner Bradsell in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.

Archie Watson’s three-year-old followed up last season’s Coventry Stakes triumph by beating Highfield Princess in the King’s Stand Stakes at the Berkshire track in June.

He has since finished third in the Nunthorpe at York before a below-par effort in the Flying Five at the Curragh, but there were excuses for that setback in Ireland.

“We went there looking for good ground but I think an hour before the race there was a deluge,” said Doyle. “It was very loose ground and although he travelled nicely on it, he just wheel spun when push came to shove. That’s all we put it down to.

“Bradsell is always a horse we’ve thought highly of. He won the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot and then sustained that injury afterwards. All credit to Archie for getting him back, because you never know how they’re going to come back from that type of thing, if not physically then mentally.

“He’s so tough and to bounce back in the way he has, stepping back down to five furlongs, has been incredible.

“I’m so lucky and blessed to be riding these horses. I had Nashwa last year, and The Platinum Queen; to be able to go this year with Bradsell, I’m just very lucky.”

Doyle is also dreaming of Melbourne Cup glory after being booked to partner recent Flemington Group Three scorer Future History in Australia’s biggest race.

Reflecting on that opportunity, she told Sky Sports Racing: “I’m really happy and very excited about that. It was always going to be a hard task to get a ride in the Melbourne Cup, but I’ve managed to pick one up and it’s pretty cool.

“It’ll be great to have a change and hopefully have a bit of success abroad.”

Purton booked to ride Absurde in Melbourne Cup

Zac Purton has been booked to ride the Willie Mullins-trained Absurde in next month’s Lexus Melbourne Cup.

Purton, who is a six-times champion jockey in Hong Kong, will team up with the Ebor winner in the Flemington feature on November 7 after Frankie Dettori rode the five-year-old to victory at York.

Absurde is set to carry 8st 5lb in the big race which is too low for Dettori to maintain the partnership, so Purton is delighted to renew an old association with Mullins, having ridden Max Dynamite to finish third for the handler in the 2017 Melbourne Cup.

“I think he’s just a wizard as a trainer, he’s a very, very intelligent guy when it comes to training horses,” Purton told www.racing.com.

“You can even see with the Melbourne Cup, the horses he picks to take down for the race, how he strategically places them in the lead-up races to try and beat the handicapper.

“He just knows exactly what he’s doing and I’d always said to my manager that he’s a trainer that I think one day is going to win the Melbourne Cup and hopefully we can be a part of it.”

Purton has ridden Group One victors in his native Australia as well as Japan, Britain and Singapore but admits the Melbourne Cup is a tough race in which to have a winning opportunity.

He added: “Unfortunately, it’s been hard to get the right rides in it because the Europeans generally take their own jockeys, the Japanese like to take their own jockeys and the rides in Australia are sewn up by the jockeys that have the connections with the owners and trainers down there.

“From the position I’m in, it’s just really hard to get that right horse and I’ve got an opportunity again, so hopefully I can make the most of it. I’ve had an amazing career, I’ve ridden a lot of great horses, won a lot of big races but this is the one that is left that I’d love to win now.”

Vauban settles in well ahead of Melbourne Cup tilt

Melbourne Cup favourite Vauban arrived in Australia over the weekend and has settled into his new surroundings at the Werribee quarantine centre.

Trained by Willie Mullins, who is also running the Ebor winner Absurde in Australia’s greatest race, Vauban has headed the market since his sparkling win in the Copper Horse Handicap, in which Absurde was second.

Since then Vauban, a three-time Grade One winner over hurdles, has won the Group Three Ballyroan Stakes in smooth style.

“Touch wood, he seems fine,” Mullins’ assistant David Casey, who has travelled to Australia, told www.racing.com.

Vauban in action on the gallops at Willie Mullins' County Carlow base
Vauban in action on the gallops at Willie Mullins’ County Carlow base (Niall Carson/PA)

“He travelled well, it seems he’s eating and drinking since he came and arrived. He didn’t lose a lot of weight and he’s put it all actually back on since he came. Delighted with him.

“(He) had a little hack this morning, nothing strenuous – so, so far so good.

“I went over and rode him last Tuesday before he left, gave him a nice bit of work and was very happy with him.”

Some European challengers often take in a warm up race but with both Vauban and Absurde confirmed of a place in the Melbourne Cup already, Casey feels there is no need to go down that road.

Absurde (let) was a brilliant winner of the Ebor under Frankie Dettori
Absurde (let) was a brilliant winner of the Ebor under Frankie Dettori (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I imagine it will be straight in, it’s looking that way,” Casey said.

“I imagine the next couple of weeks will be pretty quiet for him and then we’ll start building him up closer to the race.

“It was great that he won at Ascot and backed it up when he won in Naas – we’re here and we’re delighted to be taking part and obviously hopefully with a horse that can be competitive.

“We will be thrilled if we can be competitive in the race.

“55kg for Vauban is kind of what we expected – we kind of thought somewhere between 54.5 and 55.5.”

Casey, though, would prefer a bit of rain before the big day.

“They’re big, strong horses, both of them – maybe ground-wise, it might be a little bit of a disadvantage, because they might just hit it a little bit harder,” he said.

“I haven’t seen it this warm this early before out here. If there’s a drop of rain around, I won’t mind too much.

“I could do with it in five weeks’ time maybe!

“I think Absurde will probably handle it quicker – Vauban has run and he won on very quick ground in Ascot, which wasn’t an issue – but you’d just prefer not to be running on it every day, you know, when he is big and strong.”

Desert Hero camp rule out Melbourne Cup bid

Hopes of seeing a royal runner in this year’s Melbourne Cup are over after connections of Desert Hero confirmed he will not be making the trip to Australia.

The Sea The Stars colt brought the house down when providing the newly-crowned King and Queen with their first taste of Royal Ascot success in the King George V Stakes in June, while a subsequent victory in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood earned him a shot at Classic glory in the St Leger.

The King and Queen made the trip to Doncaster to see the William Haggas-trained three-year-old in action and while he came up short, he was far from disgraced in finishing third behind Aidan O’Brien’s Continuous and Haggas left the door ajar for a possible tilt at ‘the race that stops a nation’ on the first Tuesday in November.

The King and Queen with racing adviser John Warren at Doncaster
The King and Queen with racing adviser John Warren at Doncaster (Danny Lawson/PA)

However, while Desert Hero was put through and passed the veterinary checks that would allow him to board the plane, his team have ultimately decided a journey to Australia is not in the youngster’s best interest at this stage of his career.

John Warren, racing adviser to the King and Queen, told the PA news agency: “After giving it plenty of thought we have decided that Desert Hero won’t head to the Melbourne Cup this year.

“It is obviously a world-class race and it was very tempting, but he is still a young horse and we will give him more time to mature.

“He will now have a good break and William will work out a plan for next year.”

Vauban towards the top as Melbourne Cup weights announced

Ante-post favourite Vauban has been given a weight of 55 kilograms for the Lexus Melbourne Cup.

Willie Mullins’ charge, who won the 2022 Triumph Hurdle, heads the market for the November 7 contest after winning each of his two starts on the level this term – chalking up a seven-and-a-half-length verdict in the Copper Horse Handicap at Royal Ascot before landing the Group Three Ballyroan Stakes in fine style last time.

The five-year-old’s weight, which equates to around 8st 9lb, has him 3.5kg behind last year’s winner and top weight Gold Trip.

Mullins has a second string to his bow in Absurde, who is guaranteed a start in the Group One contest after winning the Ebor under a fine Frankie Dettori ride at York last month.

He finished second to Vauban at Ascot and has been given 53kg for the Flemington showpiece, while Aidan O’Brien’s Broome, winner of the Dubai Gold Cup back in March, has 56.5kg.

O’Brien also has St Leger fourth Tower Of London on 50.5kg, with son Joseph – already a dual winner of the race with Rekindling (2017) and Twilight Payment (2020) – having Valiant King (50kg) and Okita Soushi (51.5kg) in the field.

The William Haggas-trained Desert King, who finished a gallant third for the King and Queen in Saturday’s St Leger, has been given 51.5kg.

Fellow Newmarket-trained runner West Wind Blows is on 54kg for Simon and Ed Crisford, with the four-year-old already in Australia ahead of a possible run in the Turnbull Stakes on October 7.

Dermot Weld, who broke new ground when sending Vintage Crop to become the first northern hemisphere-trained winner of the race in 1993 before adding another victory nine years later with Media Puzzle, has Harbour Wind in contention this year but his weight of 50kg leaves him well down the field, which has a limit of 24 runners.

Other familiar names in the field include ex-Haggas runners Alenquer (56.5kg) and Soulcombe (53.5kg), last year’s second Emissary (52kg) plus Francesco Guardi (54kg) and El Bodegon (55.5kg), who were both previously trained by James Ferguson, and last year’s Irish Oaks victor Magical Lagoon (51kg).

Racing Victoria’s head of handicapping David Hegan said: “Gold Trip is the standout performer among the entries for both Cups (Melbourne and Caulfield) and the natural topweight with Broome the only Group One winner among an international contingent that boasts an assortment of rapidly emerging stayers.

“We have effectively lifted Gold Trip 2kg from his true weight last year, which is less than the penalty afforded other Melbourne Cup winners in recent times, however we are mindful that it is 48 years since a horse has carried 58.5kg to victory in either Cup so a significant challenge awaits.”

Haggas keeping Melbourne option open for now with Desert Hero

Desert Hero will start the vetting procedure for the Lexus Melbourne Cup, with trainer William Haggas eager to keep all avenues open for his St Leger third.

The Sea The Stars colt, who is owned by the King and Queen, was beaten just over three lengths by Continuous at Doncaster on Saturday and is a general 12-1 shot for the Flemington feature on November 7.

International runners in the two-mile contest are subject to a series of veterinary checks before being permitted to run by Racing Victoria, a process which Haggas will begin with Desert Hero, although he underlined undertaking those checks does not necessarily mean the horse will make the trip.

The King and Queen watch on with excitement at Doncaster
The King and Queen watch on with excitement at Doncaster (Danny Lawson/PA)

He told the Nick Luck Daily Podcast: “We want to leave all options open, so the horse will go through his veterinary tests.

“I think we start tonight and then we’ve a couple of days (of) MRIs, tomorrow and Wednesday, so we will get those completed. That doesn’t mean he’s going, but the weights come out tomorrow and then we can collate all the information. Who knows, the veterinary protocols might rule him out anyway, so we will see what happens.”

The King and Queen were at the Town Moor track to see Desert Hero post a gallant effort in defeat, with the crowd providing a warm reception.

Haggas added: “It was a fabulous day – there was a huge crowd, very enthusiastic. I don’t think anyone really believed the King and the Queen would come, so the fact that they did was terrific.

“They weren’t there for very long, but it was great that they came.”

William Haggas explains to the King and Queen where the race was won and lost
William Haggas explains to the King and Queen where the race was won and lost (Nick Robson/PA)

The King and Queen assumed the late Queen’s racing interests following her death, with Desert Hero giving them a first Royal Ascot success when winning the King George V Stakes in June.

Asked if he thought the King was enjoying his racing experience so far, Haggas said: “It appears that way and that’s fantastic because he’s very keen, but obviously it’s been his mother’s baby for as long as we’ve been alive and he didn’t get involved until sadly she left us.

“He’s been full on since and I think he’s enjoying it – I hope he is anyway.

“There was a bit of nervous tension on Saturday, as you can imagine – excitement, but there was a little bit of nerves. We’d spoken about the horse and everyone knew the situation, we were just all hoping for the best.”